DENVER (KDVR) — The Problem Solvers are looking into bed caps at juvenile detention centers, a conversation reignited by recent violent crimes involving youth around the Denver metro.
There is a statewide cap on how many beds the state has for detained youth in its centers. It’s a cap that has gone down by the hundreds since 2003. The Problem Solvers heard from both sides on if there should even be a cap.
“We want the state to get rid of this policy because it’s impacting our state in a negative way,” said Dustin Zvonek.
Zvonek is an Aurora City Council member who spearheaded a resolution that passed the council last month that aims to get rid of the current cap on juvenile beds altogether.
Zvonek and others believe the cap puts judges in a perilous position to release violent offenders who then go on to commit more violent crimes, just to make room for newer offenders.
“It’s asking them not to just expand the number of beds which they’ve talked about by a certain percentage but to completely get rid of this arbitrary cap,” Zvonek told FOX31 explaining the resolution.
The number of beds has gone down from 479 in 2003 to its current number, 215, which the state just reduced two years ago, according to Heidi Bauer.
Bauer is the director of communications and legislative affairs with the state’s Division of Youth Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The state’s ACLU applauds what state lawmakers have done.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a state to support these kids in getting what they need, not solving the problem with a Band-Aid instead of solving the problem at the root,” Anaya Robinson said.
He is the senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Colorado and said the issue isn’t the number of beds within juvenile detention centers, it’s the funding for programs and services they need to support those who end up in those centers.
“There is no bed cap for committed youth. There is only a bed cap for detained youth,” Robinson said. “So we want to make sure that we’re really addressing the problem that is there, not a problem that we don’t believe actually exists.”
There’s a clear divide over an issue concerning our children, who are currently caught at the center of a dangerous reality.
“I want to see as few kids as possible in juvenile detention, we all want to see fewer kids committing these crimes,” Zvonek said. “But if the reality is if there’s more of them, we have to have a space for them.
The state’s Department of Human Services did request the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee for an increase of $3.3 million dollars for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
It would increase the statutory juvenile detention bed cap from 215 to 249. You can read that request here.
FOX31 received several statements on this issue from several prosecutor’s offices around the metro as well. Here are their statements:
Beth McCann, Denver District Attorney’s Office:
“We are supporting the DHS request submitted to the Joint Budget Committee to increase the caps on juvenile beds. With the current limits, our juvenile attorneys have found that some judges are reluctant to order a juvenile detained when the cap is close to being raised. The caps need to be higher than they are currently in order to give the courts flexibility to detain kids based on criminal history, level of offense, and whether they have a safe place to go.”
Brian Mason, 17th Judicial District Attorney — Adams and Broomfield:
“My staff on a weekly and sometimes daily basis are discussing which least dangerous young person to let out of custody in order to create a bed for a more dangerous person. And it’s because of these arbitrary bed space caps, which are literally making the communities less safe.”
John Kellner, 18th Judicial District Attorney — Arapahoe and Douglas:
“As violent crime sharply rose among juveniles, the legislature strangled the courts’ and law enforcement’s ability to detain them. Due to the arbitrary and extremely low bed cap, violent juveniles are often released to make space for a more recent violent juvenile offender. This has to change now. It’s important to note that no one wants to incarcerate juveniles. We all want to see juveniles rehabilitated, but we’ve also seen more juveniles with guns, committing shootings and robberies and other violent crimes. Sometimes the safest outcome is for a juvenile to remain in custody to protect the public but also to ensure a juvenile doesn’t return straight back to a bad environment where he may commit another crime. Once that happens, the consequences often become more severe and life-changing for the juvenile.”
Michael Dougherty, 20th Judicial District — Boulder County:
“Youth and teen violence is incredibly concerning right now. We just had another young person shot and killed in Longmont over the weekend. The problem is more than just the arbitrary limits on beds in juvenile detention facilities. The violence is, also, due to the proliferation of firearms amongst kids as well as the State’s failure to fund programming and placements for juveniles in need. It is our hope that this legislative session does not produce changes to the juvenile system at the expense of public safety.”